“The Journey to the Grocery Store”
Once I was told "that life is like a grocery store and it would be a shame to spend hours there and leave empty handed." Pondering the meaning of this statement, I reflect on my grocery store journey. The grand opening was filled with many great things to sample. There were sweet aromas in the air like hot buttered popcorn, glazed donuts, and melting milk chocolate. Also there were unfamiliar smells such as naivetés, confusion, and deceit. I entered into the store of life on November 3, 1968 to a teenage mother in Detroit, Michigan. As a baby I would coil up like a snapping turtle, which was ready to snap. Looking at baby pictures I see a chunky fat, two front teeth with a bright smile, pecan tan complexion baby in a pink and white dress with a white bow on it. She's wearing two small curly pigtails and holding a dingy looking Easter bunny, and she appears to be happy and carefree but in reality, I would find that I was deceived.
During a summer visit when I was eight to see my great grandmother Big Mama in Buffalo, NY, the deception was revealed by one of my mother’s sisters during a heated argument between my aunt and Big Mama. My Big Mama had requested that my three aunts return back to Detroit because they were flashing the boys next door and trying to be disrespectful (like most growing teens). My aunt yelled out that my mother (whom they call “Tiny”) was lying by letting me believe that Daddy was my biological father. Later that day Big Mama called my mother and advised her of the situation. At that time my mother explained to me (over the telephone) that the statement was true; my real dad’s name was Robert Jenner and he lived in Alaska. Not being old enough and not wanting to believe that this information was true, I believe I mentally blocked it out.
The next few years for me included a rebellious period. I was a liar and a thief creating havoc in my household. I did not understand at the time why I was feeling that I was “owed” for being deceived. Once I was caught stealing change from one of our nannies’ purses and when confronted by my mother I tried to convince her with a lie. She had once told me a story of a young man who was accused of a crime. The police wanted him to confess, so they asked his mother to speak to him. His mother asked her son, “Did you commit this crime?” and the son said, “No, mother, I did not.” The mother then said to the policeman “Release my son for he did not commit this crime.” The policeman asked her how she knew he did not do this. She replied, “My son has never lied to me.” That story has always stuck with me, but not wanting to disappoint my mother, I lied.
My childhood changed once my mother remarried my stepdad, Marcus (who is Caucasian); I was seven, and we became a vibrant family. Marcus treated us as if we were his own. He never allowed or called us names. He always said that we were no different than anyone else but we were not average. He expected us to do better than the average person. On Sundays, which was our family day, we would travel to different parts of Michigan. We would go to museums, ballet recitals, and plays. When my parents would take their vacation time from work, we would travel to different parts of the US like Indiana, Tennessee, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. One time when we went to Oberlin, Ohio, I almost lost my life in an Olympic-sized pool. I was floating on top of a floater and flipped over. As I was sinking, I remember trying to be calm and not to panic (I had learned that from watching some program about drowning), so I would come up and scream help then I would go down. I guess my stepdad heard me and pushed me to the side wall of the pool. Yes, he saved me, and from that moment on, I no longer called him Marcus but Dad.
At fifteen, I met my biological father, Robert Jenner, for the first and last time. I was not receptive to him because I did not want Daddy to feel that I was not being loyal to him after all he had done for me and my family. Mr. Reed was a stranger and did not know my likes or dislikes, favorite color, or what made me special, yet Daddy knew all of this and more. Also at this time, my family had decided to move from Michigan to Orlando, Florida without Daddy. This should have been an exciting time in our lives because we were “tourists” living in “Mickey Mouse town," but I felt lost and confused about the “true” motive for the move. Convinced that my mother moved us away from Daddy, I vowed that once I graduated from high school I would move back to Detroit.
In aisle two of the grocery store, I found the relationship fundamentals like honesty, communications, and trust. I moved down this aisle quickly without reading the ingredients. I threw verbal and physical abuse in my cart as well as mental. I made my way over to aisle three to find that it was full of betrayal. I moved back to Detroit to continue my education, but I found a lot of freedom that I did not grow up with in my mother’s home. I did not know what the “bad” guy looked like; I believed that everyone had my best interest at heart (soon I found that was not the case). My first clear view of this was standing about six feet at fifteen years old, my neighbor named Fallon. She had the prettiest brown eyes I had ever seen but nothing else about her was pretty. She was the daughter of our neighborhood drug lord. Not knowing what drugs looked like, I was her runner. We went to the park and posted up on the picnic tables, and Fallon held up fingers, which would indicate how many white pellicles (crack cocaine) I was to give to the person standing in front of me. I never felt like my life was in danger or thought about how it was a felony.
Additionally, on many occasions back in Detroit, I found myself in sexual situations just to survive. One time I was at the club wearing a blue camisole and black leggings. During this time, there was a serial killer attacking young women who he found at the clubs. I had been drinking an eight-ounce cocktail that was made up of five white liquors and blue syrup, called “The Blue Motherfucker.” I must have had at least three of these cocktails before I jumped on the dance floor gyrating my hips and shaking my breasts. By the time I left the spinning dance floor, there were three to four men buying me more cocktails (and no, I did not turn them down). The next morning, I woke up to a stranger and did not know where I was. They say God watches over fools and babies, and I sure am no baby.
My saving grace was meeting my daughters’ father, Dean. He stands five foot five and weighs about one hundred fifty-five pounds. He had dark golden skin and the whitest teeth I had ever seen on a black man. His head was shaved bald, and he had no facial hair but a mustache that was trimmed by the gods. His voice was like melting hot butter on a bowl of freshly popped corn. I was in love from the moment I saw him. As a child I was told that I would not be able to have any children due to a medical condition, so did not use any form of birth control. Four months after meeting Dean, I found that I was pregnant and my miracle child, Spring, was born on February 15, 1992. This changed my life because all the partying and careless behavior seemed to stop. She was my focal point, and I vowed she would have the life that I had and that I would not take her father from her.
I believe this was where I picked up the items on aisle two. Dean was what we call a womanizer. He had all the right features and abilities to convince you that the sky was purple when you saw that it was blue or that you did not need a winter coat on outside when you knew it was snowing. He already had three children when I met him (yes, I should have ran away) and two other babies’ mommas yet “our” love was real. Because he and his babies’ mommas did not graduate from high school or come from a privileged background as I did, he started to verbally attack me when I caught him in inappropriate situations or behaviors with other women, including his babies’ mommas. Once he called me ugly, fat, bald-headed, stuck up, and many other negative words but that did not break us up or stop me from wanting to be with him.
Once he saw that I brushed off his insults, he started to fight me. One day he slapped me while I was sitting in the foyer, and I started to talk out loud to myself. His grandmother said that I was saying, “He did not hit me.” The other me answered with “Yes, he did” and before she knew it, I was pouncing on him like a kitten on a mouse, and Dean was so shocked that he retreated. From that point on, he fought with me while I was asleep or during my second pregnancy with Winter. I always fought back but due to my mother’s abusive relationship, I knew I had to leave him alone. Once he figured out that I would fight back, he mentally and physically abused me by having sex with me while I was asleep or “taking” it. He made me sit with him while he got high off of crack cocaine and heroin. He even went as far as to have me smoke crack cocaine, but I did not have an addictive spirit (even though it is in my family’s blood), and I asked him once “Why would you want your children's mother to be a crack head?” From that moment on, he never made me use or watch.
On aisle four, I found a new and improved energy drink. This was just what I needed. I threw three of them in my basket for I knew I had to stand up for my daughters by leaving Dean in Michigan. I moved my children and myself to Florida and enrolled in college, working two jobs just to make ends meet. I received my Associate Science Degree in Office Management Technology and certifications in Word Processing, Secretarial, HIV, Medical Transcription, and Medical Terminology. I was determined to use this new drink to my full advantage.
In aisle five, there it was again, deception, but dressed differently, and yes, I was hungry for the companionship, so I put it in my basket but with new rules. I would not tolerate liars, abuse (of any kind), cheaters, or a thief. Meeting Kirk was like a breath of fresh air. We dated for four years. He was funny, sensitive, and respectful. Little did I know that he had all four of the qualities I said I would not tolerate.
All was revealed when I won some Tyler Perry’s play tickets off of the radio. Kirk was supposed to watch my girls and “was on the way.” He asked me to put the girls to bed and leave the patio door open, so he could get in but little did he know that Daddy was in town from Detroit and had volunteered to watch them. The play’s message was: just ask God and He will show you the way. When I got in my car, it seemed that I was not driving but was being driven. I knew immediately that it was God, and I said out loud, “Show me.” I arrived at the Orlando Jai Alai (a sport center), and I walked up the stairs and there Kirk stood.
“Where are my girls?” I asked.
He stated they were home asleep. I then reminded him of the four things I said I would not tolerate in our relationship and turned on my heels. He followed me, but was trying to talk me out of what he knew I was thinking. A woman walked up and he tried to get rid of her. She turned to me and introduced herself as his girlfriend. I was horrified. I was truly done with him and told him to come get his things by noon the next day or else.
Well needless to say, he did not come, and I had a Waiting to Exhale moment. Yes, I set all of his things on fire and poured them on his mother’s front lawn. After I later apologized to his girlfriend, she had the nerve to say to me that I was not woman enough to take her man. Being “the scorpion” I am, I do not take verbal threats or challenges lightly. I decided I had had enough and called it quits. After leaving him, I found out that I was having a baby thirteen days before my beautiful son, Justice, was born. I was not attached and did not feel like a new mother should, because I did not have the proper time to bond with him. Justice was not a healthy baby but he was full term, and the doctors did not think he would make it but God and I had a plan. I loved him through the trying time.
I skipped aisle six through eight because they were full of products that I found useless, but on aisle nine, I found the worldwide web, aka the Internet. There were so many chatrooms that I could join, more opportunities to meet men. My careless attitude was resurfacing. This is how I met the father(s) of my final child (Chandler): Frederick Douglas, Chase Crockett, and Joshua Dewey. Yes, I had a Maury Povich’s moment (one letter after another stating “He was not the father”). Finally, I received the “he is the father letter” for Chase. I must admit, he is a piss poor excuse for a father and no, I did not check any resumes; I just hired different men for the job.
Aisle eleven is where I found that my children were different from other children. The boys were not focused and had scattered brains. When Justice was four years old, he decided to get up and crack eighteen eggs in the middle of the kitchen floor. I asked him, “Why would you do that?” He said, “I was making you breakfast.”
Chandler was in class one day and just started screaming profanity like a drunken sailor. The dean of the school said, “I have never been cussed out like that in my life.” I then decided that we needed to bring these behaviors up with their doctor. He referred us to a mental behavioral doctor, Wayne Soven. Doctor Soven diagnosed the boys with ADHD (Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and Chandler also with Bi-Polar. I felt ashamed and embarrassed because I was not careful with whom I had babies with, and I felt like this was God’s way of punishing me.
Seeking another opinion, I contacted their health insurance and found Seminole County Mental Health (SCMH), and the diagnoses were confirmed as correct. There we were referred to therapy, and that is where I learned that these mental diseases were genetic and there was no reason to be embarrassed or feel that it was a punishment. Therapy made me feel more relaxed, and I felt that I could handle whatever came my way with treating these diseases.
I began by putting my boys on a regimen of medications. It was a lot of medication for young boys. At first, I was not giving the boys their medicines every day because it was such a hassle making sure they were swallowing the tablets. So I constantly had complaints, even suspensions from the school and bus drivers who transported them to and from school. Still not wanting to recognize that these diseases needed “everyday” treatment, I would sometimes not give the boys’ their medications. Once we were at my parents’ house and my boys were on the wild from rambling to Chandler fighting with Justice who screamed he was going to get a knife and kill him. I was mortified because I was so embarrassed, and I could not believe the words that were coming out of his mouth.
On aisle twelve, I found one of the most important items: forgiveness. My parents, I feel, are judgmental and don't understand the complications or the realm of mental health. Also, I feel that they have their chosen four children out of the six, and I am not one of those chosen. They said things that were derogatory and hurtful (in front of my boys), such as: “Have they taken their meds?” or “Did you give them their meds? Because we cannot babysit them.” There is no need to say my boys do not have a relationship with my dad and very little with my mother.
My mother is a good financial grandmother (Nana). She makes sure my children have a good Christmas, and she provides them with school clothes, but she does not spend time with them. She does not know what they like/dislike as she does with her other grandchildren. In contrast, my sister, Amber, has a son that my parents seem to worship. I mean they take him to lunch/dinner once a week. They attend his football games, basketball games, and other sporting events. (My children had football games right around the corner from my parents' home but they never showed up.) My nephew rides his bicycle to their house all the time. They speak to him in a nice respectable tone.
My family is really judgmental and holds grudges, so I asked my sister, Amber, “Why do our parents act this way?” She told me that I was the needy one of the family and that she established this relationship with our parents and her son. I must admit I felt hurt and ashamed from that statement because I felt that my parents, being the adults, should have established this type of relationship with all of their grandchildren. I do not feel like I am needy. I just have four children when the rest of my sisters have either one or two children, are married, or have a supportive partner. Yes, I admit that I picked my children’s fathers but I made sure my children were provided for. Sometimes, I needed to borrow money or food but I always offered to pay it back when I got paid and I was told not to worry about it (which I accepted, not knowing the true feelings of the giver).
Growing up, my siblings and I were not allowed to have physical altercations. My parents taught us to verbally communicate what our issue was and to find ways to resolve the matter before they would enter into the conversation. I do believe that is one reason we were really close and had each other’s backs, but now it is like they look for reasons to give their opinions on matters that do not concern them or that they have never experienced.
One thing I must say is that I have a compassionate spirit. I do not judge, and I try to stay positive and look for the best in a situation. One day I had an epiphany. Life is too short to be trying to impress and live for others. I decided that day to make sure my glass house was insured before throwing rocks at another’s glass house for that rock may ricochet and hit my glass house as well. I tried living for my parents, and it did not make me happy nor them for they saw everything that I was doing wrong and not what I was doing right.
On aisle thirteen there it was again: companionship. I met Francois, and he made me glow. I had this preconceived disposition regarding foreign men and would not date them. Not knowing he was Haitian, I let him melt my stone cold heart. We did the things that most women long for, such as movies, walking in the park, long dinners with great conversation. After dating for three months, he stopped answering my texts, and I did not know why. Finally Francois sent me a text and said that he was not the one for me and that I needed to move on. I had never seen it coming. Months passed by and he wrote me a long “Dear Joanie” letter on Myspace stating that he really did love me but knew that the things he was doing was not good and that I was such a wonderful person that did not deserve to be hurt. I accepted his apology, and before I knew it we were right back where we started at but now the label was “Friends with Benefits,” I look back at that time and truly believe the reason why Francois did not want to be in a relationship with me was because of my weight; he was ashamed.
On Aisle fourteen my feet hurt and the cart becomes harder to push. I noticed that my health was deteriorating. I was considered morbidly obese. I had diabetes and high blood pressure. On November 29, 2013, which is the birthday of my sister Amber and a family friend, I planned to spend the day with my friend and that evening with Amber. My feet were swollen and I posted it on social media. A high school friend replied with "go to the emergency room" because her feet had done the same thing, and she was diagnosed with congested heart failure. Needless to say, this scared me, and I went to the emergency room.
My blood pressure was 206/103 and my glucose reading was at 362, which are both very high. I was admitted into the hospital and was told that I was in stage four of kidney failure. The doctors stated that I needed to lose weight because once I started dialysis I would be placed on the kidney transplant list, and I would not qualify because of my weight. My dad (Marcus) asked the doctors if it would be in my best interest to have a gastric bypass and they said, yes, they would recommend this. Again my dad saved my life.
After ten days in the hospital, I was discharged but on a mission. I called and found a surgeon who would perform the surgery. After I had the gastric bypass surgery, I had a lot of complications and spent the next two months healing. I was in so much pain that I must admit that I was praying for death, yet I was praying that God would take away the pain so that I could return home to my children. On October 14, 2014, I was discharged, but I could not lift myself off of the sofa or toilet. My muscles had atrophied because I had not been able to walk around. I would crawl out of the bathroom and roll off of the sofa. Not eligible for physical therapy I just started walking to the corner. Then, before I knew it, I was able to walk to the store (which is about ten blocks from the house). Now I have joined the fitness club, and I'm losing weight. My goal weight is not written in stone, because I make short-term goals, but I know I do not want to be less than 173lbs (which is the average weight for a woman of my height).
I realized that I did not get all the things I needed from aisle eleven, and I had to back track. Once I found that it was not my fault that my sons had mental health issues, I went into full force mode. I wanted my sons to receive the best support that was available. My sister Amber got involved, and she worked with different organizations that could point me in the right direction. We got my sons mentors, the proper medications, enrollment in schools that dealt with their challenges, and doctors that could help them become successful.
There are many aisles that I have not been to, but I have at least another three to four decades to spend in this grocery store. I promise I will not leave with empty bags, and I thank grandma for giving me that advice because it made me question what I was putting in my cart and how it represented the person that I am and was.
Your Life. Your Story. You Make a Difference.
The Journey to the Grocery Store
“The Journey to the Grocery Store”